Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wonder Years - Suburbia Review

The last year and a half has been monumental for the Philadelphia outfit, The Wonder Years. Their 2010 release, The Upsides, has become the new standard in pop-punk. The record wove together lyrics about life, touring, friendship, relationships and surviving your mid-20s without hiding behind a veil of words and similes. It quickly became the most straightforward and honest record the scene had received in years - thus gaining the band national exposure and a growing fan base.

So with the release of The Wonder Years' latest album, Suburbia: I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing, the pressure was on to make a pop-punk masterpiece capable of topping The Upsides. Fans would ultimately be looking for something catchy, deeply relatable and on par with the band's earlier work. So did TWY pull it off?

One listen through the new record and it becomes clear that once again we are met with the more intimate side of vocalist Dan "Soupy" Campbell's lyrics. Whether the topic concerns an ex-girlfriend, questioning where home is or whatever happened to the homeless guy that slept in Memorial Park, Suburbia has a way of placing you in the shoes of its outspoken lyricist.

The album's opening track, "Came Out Swinging", gives perspective on what the band have been up to over the last year. It begs the question of where home really is. There's an internal struggle going on that's no doubt brought upon by the band's burgeoning success and non-stop tour schedule. "I came out swinging from a South Philly basement caked in stale beer and sweat under half-lit fluorescents/And I spent the winter writing songs about getting better/Well, if I'm being honest, I'm getting there."

It seems that Suburbia always keeps The Upsides in mind. "Local Man Ruins Everything", one of the album's best tracks, combats the "I'm not sad anymore" mantra with a look into what happened when they finally turned the Logan Circle fountain off and it was time to get back to real life.

Perhaps the most out out place song on the record comes at the middle. "I Won't Say The Lord's Prayer" is the "Dynamite Shovel" of Suburbia. It's the band's obligatory song on what they don't like about Christianity. And while the music itself is catchy, the topic just seems overdone and misplaced. Suburbia wrestles with finding home and making a life for yourself while in a touring band. To drag religion into it again, with virtually the same message, feels like a stretch and makes this one of the more forgettable tracks on the record.

The second half of the album jumps back to that original high intensity level. "Coffee Eyes" explodes in a dark, but quick, introspective on what its like to have some structure in the place you grew up. Later on, "Hoodie Weather" again takes a stab at what it means to be home and the notion that somewhere else is always better. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

Musically, Suburbia is as catchy as TWY's earlier work. There are plenty of layered guitar tracks, bass breakdowns and lots of quick, concise drumming. This is an album that was made for the stage. There are no frills or tricks anywhere that would lead you to believe this record was made by a computer rather than musicians. The band have stayed as honest musically as they have lyrically - a trend that's undoubtedly catching on again as witnessed by their growing success in recent years.

So how does Suburbia measure up to The Upsides? Well, it's not The Upsides. Don't expect anything to blow your mind or change the face of pop-punk... again. However, this is a meaningful record for the scene. It's a natural progression for the band. With Suburbia it seems that TWY have found their stride. This record is the next step in building a solid and memorable discography that might someday influence a whole new wave of pop-punk lifers.

It's worth having in your collection.

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